Greening the Region
It was 1868—when looking down from the Hill District to smokestacks belching fire and smoke, a riverbank littered with coal barges and railroads, and a bottomland saturated with muddy streets and gritty row houses pressed hard against the Allegheny River, Boston writer James Parton described Pittsburgh as “Hell with the lid taken off.” Today, Parton would no longer recognize the city that Pittsburgh has become.
“Pittsburgh is clearly a national leader in green building,” said former U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) CEO Christine Ervin. “It is most fitting that a city that was characterized in the past as having numerous environmental challenges is one of the true leaders in the world for environmental progress.”
The Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes testifies to this ongoing leadership, but is only the most recent in an illustrious history of green buildings in Pittsburgh. The first buildings certified by the USGBC to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard in 2000 included PNC’s Firstside Center, followed in 2003 by the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which was the largest LEED-certified building in the world. Since then, Pittsburgh has maintained the pace with additional green building firsts (see list), and currently ranks 15th among U.S. cities for its number of LEED-certified buildings (75).
The greening of our built environment isn’t just a fad brought about by architects or environmentalists, but has spread into everyday practice. According to McGraw-Hill Construction research, 88 percent of the commercial construction industry is incorporating some green products or features into their projects, and that is expected to increase, regardless of economic conditions.
PNC Bank has more LEED-certified buildings (100) than any other company on Earth. Green buildings have been built or rehabilitated locally by, to name a few: Google, Giant Eagle, Heinz, Highmark, REI, the Pittsburgh Penguins, U.S. Steel, Medrad, ALCOA, Westinghouse, Point Park University, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, St. Vincent University, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Pittsburgh Opera, WYEP-FM, the Felician Sisters, the Western Pa. Conservancy and the Green Building Alliance, whose South Side office is the region’s first LEED for Commercial Interiors platinum-certified building.
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes is a harbinger of projects yet to unfold. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Chatham University are pursuing Living Building challenges, the region has 207 additional projects registered but not yet LEED-certified, and PNC is aiming to build the world’s most environmentally friendly skyscraper with its 33-story Tower at PNC Plaza, which is under construction downtown. If only James Parton could see us now.